Author’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a novel in progress, that I thought would work well as a short story. Hope you enjoy!
Voices hummed in the warm den behind her, and somewhere in the background, the porch grumbled under the weight of footsteps. Rose wasn’t exactly sure how much time had passed; how long before Willa would come out to make sure that she hadn’t passed out in a bush somewhere? She drew in one more breath of cold air, letting it burn her lungs, savoring the sting of vitality. She had just decided to go in and pull Willa away from the vicinity of the kitchen when she felt the tug on the hem of her skirt. For just a moment, her conscious mind went blank. Something in her sub-conscious told her body not to move. Another low moan from the floorboards somewhere on the opposite end of the porch served to push her surface thoughts back into high gear. Don’t let the dark and the alcohol play with you–that could have been anything. “Don’t jump to conclusions.”
Rose gripped the porch beam as a sudden hard tug on the edge of her hair forced her head backward. she reached up to massage the whiplash induced knot at the base of her neck with her finger tips. “Ok…so maybe that one wasn’t my imagination.” Rose The voice was delicate –and small–most likely the developing vocal chords of a child. But more than that, it was clear; the kind of non-electronic, intelligent voice phenomenon that would have Tara and Brittany groping for their cameras and popping the Champaign, and it was inches from Rose’s side. Rose. Listen. Not there. Not there Stay. Stay Lana Mama– Rose–don’t… The air seemed to grow warm and close. Rose’s throat tightened and her body went still as their voices closed in around her. They tugged at the edges of her understanding, demanding their audiences, bleeding their confessions all over her. Not here…in back… Andrew. Stop Andrew.
The longer she stood there, the more clearly their voices pieced together. She wasn’t sure if her presence was making them bold, or if she was just tuning in to them; if some dormant inner ear was stirring awake against her will. The louder they became, the more Rose felt like a deer trapped in a hunter’s crosshairs. They all had their piece to say: so many voices competing for her ear that her mind began to fill with static, each new appeal grabbing for a piece of her psyche. But only one of them, besides the bold little girl who had started the mess, was brave enough to touch her.
Rose felt something brush the fingers of her right hand. Whoever it was, she could feel it–them–right in front of her. It was an odd, unwelcome extra sense that she had hoped she had left behind her in high school, the way some girls leave behind their awkward shyness and unwanted birth noses. What–no, technically, who–whoever had touched her was still very close, probably still standing on the other side of the porch rail divide. rose lifted her gaze from the floorboards and stared straight ahead into the dark. The shape wasn’t as well defined as some she had seen.
When Rose had been younger–around seven, or maybe ten–she had seen them as full bodied manifestations. This one wasn’t quite that well defined: just as shape that was just detailed enough to look human. But Rose could feel the long, soft fingers on hers, just as surely as if she were staring down at them. Rose The voice was definitely female, and firm, insistent. Rose, please, you have to tell Anna…
“No,” Rose slammed her eyes shut, raising her hands, palms out, on either side of her, like a shield against their pleas. “NO. I won’t tell Anna or Andrew or Lana anything. I can’t. I–I’m so sorry. Please, stop. I can’t help you.” Rose could feel most of them step back. The air around her became more even in temperature, and strangely clearer. More breathable. The beehive in her mind began to quiet a little. She could feel the tide of their sorrow swell over her, sticking in her throat and tearing at her heart, and then recede. She felt a familiar stab of insane guilt as the little girl in the red dress let go of her skirt. The only one who didn’t step back was the one who had touched her hand. If anything, she felt closer, pushing into the boundary between them. Rose, please–please tell Anna– The soft creak of a floorboard just to Rose’s left seemed to pull her body back into the warm light of the house behind her. The voice was as clear as any of the others had been, but the air that fell on her cheek was warm.
“You can feel them, too, can’t you?” Rose looked to her left into a pair of warm grey eyes. “And hear them,” she answered, more softly than she meant to, “and sometimes see them. But you know that.” Rose realized with an inward jolt that the insistent presence in front of her had abruptly pulled away. The young man with grey eyes offered Rose a hesitant smile.
“Yeah. I guess it’s our fault for being so close to their territory, hu?” Rose slid her hands up the length of her arms, pressing the impression of her fingers into her flesh.
“Maybe,” she answered finally. She angled her gaze back toward the night, suddenly unwilling to look him in his boyish face. “Not that I can exactly blame them. I’d probably do the same thing in their position.” Rose swallowed as her stomach threated to roll, then receded. “Although, the entire damn world kind of feels like their ‘territory’, sometimes.” Rose heard the soft chuckle to her left, but she didn’t turn to look.
“To us, yeah–I guess it would.” She let the ensuing silence grow long and uncomfortable enough that he felt compelled to fill it. “It really is nice to see you again, Rose.” The gentle sincerity in his voice surprised her enough to make her meet his eyes.
“Yeah…nice to see you, too, Owen. Really.” She felt an odd jolt in her stomach as she realized that she meant it. Owen took a side step toward the railing and slid his hands into the pockets of his slacks.
“Even better to see you back in the game. You always did have a great ear for this stuff. Has Ella recruited you for her investigation into the cemetery yet?” Owen watched Rose’s face become a careful, cold mask, and took an instinctive step back.
“…And you just had to ruin it, didn’t you, O?” Owen blinked. “What? What did I say?” Rose rested a slightly shaky hand on the cold railing and turned to claim his eyes. “It’s not a game, Owen. It never has been. And I’m certainly not back in it.”
Owen sighed. “You’re still on that kick. Rose, I know what happened was a big deal, but I still think you’re wasting–”
“I really should go find my date. I have kept her waiting too long, already.”
Owen was still forming his next thought when Rose turned and pushed her way back into the house, losing herself in the crowd and the light.